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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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The Democratic Experience and Political Violence
David C. Rapoport and Leonard Weinberg (eds.)

Frank Cass
(London: Frank Cass, 2001) 378pp, Hb.: 42.50/$59.50; ISBN 0-7146-5150-8. Pb.: 18.50/$26.50; ISBN 0-7146-8167-9



Democracy and peace, a relationship which has become the holy grail for IR scholars and especially for conflict resolution specialists, hoping that the promise of a positive relationship between the two will lead to a bright future of peacefully channelled conflict. This promise has led theorists and practitioners to pursue democracy as a tool for conflict resolution almost at all cost. Each attempt to reconcile warring parties in a democratic framework that, at least temporarily, ends in violence, seems to be a case for bewilderment and despair.

While the contributors to this volume do not challenge the core of the democratic peace theory, they do challenge the assumption that occurrence of violence means an end, or the negation of effective democracy. Instead, they claim that democracy and political violence are often inextricably linked, as democratic institutions do not always inhibit but occasionally also encourage political violence.

As a conference volume, this book naturally suffers somewhat from lack of coherence. The contributors deal with very different aspects of the relationship between democracy and violence which at times results in articles that are only distantly related to each other and the topic in general. A poorly edited contents page further obfuscates the line of enquiry. In Part I - Elections - the editors' article stands out as a theoretical contribution. Comparing moments of succession in hereditary systems and electoral systems, they argue that the possibility of violence increases as the outcome of elections is rejected. Guelke analyses the effects of violence on political attitudes in three countries, while two contributors (Finn on the exclusion of anti-democratic parties, and Philpott on the legalisation of self-determination) seek to outline possible constitutional changes to deal with violence. The question of elections and outside conflict management is addressed by Crenshaw.

Part II deals with ethnic violence, a somewhat misleading heading, as the authors adopt a wider understanding of ethnicity and ethnic conflict. Thus, this part includes contributions on identity politics, separate societies and violence in the US (Simons and Barkun), violence and learning processes in Israeli politics (Sprinzak) and a historical analysis of political violence in Eastern Europe (Korbonski). Contributions in Part III take up the Jeffersonian dictum that violence not only creates but also sustains democracy. Le Vine argues that genuine democracies, even if born out of violence, do not thrive on violence. Instead, 'cultures of violence' may lead to a breakdown of democratic governance. Analysing Italian regions after WWI, Eubank and Weinberg contradict Le Vine, concluding that recurring civil strife may indeed result in the formation of a civic community, the basis for a functioning democracy. In Part IV authors deal with the causes and conditions of political violence in the US context, analysing terrorism (Hewitt) and mob violence, esp. black riots (Miller/Schaen).

Despite structural shortcomings this volume highlights an important point neglected by IR and conflict resolution scholars - the relationship between democracy and violence. While the contributors to this volume only partially succeed in this (re-)connection, they open up an interesting avenue of enquiry for those in IR relying too heavily on the promises of democratic peace.


Kirsten Haack, Department of Politics & International Relations, University of Kent at Canterbury



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